Archives

These archived posts are from The MFA Years, a previous iteration of The Workshop that published between 2014 and 2018. Commenting and pingbacks are permanently turned off.

Epilogue: Three Months After the MFA

So here I am. Three months after graduating from an MFA program in Creative Writing. What am I doing with my life? What are my hopes and dreams? What am I wearing?…Wait, what? Why are you asking what I’m wearing? If any of you read my last post some, oh, seven months ago, you’ll know that I was already thinking about PhD programs/jobs/etc. then The truth is, this has been the most challenging realm of my life to navigate, but I think it’s also important to share, because for every person who graduates from an MFA program and lands their ideal job or gets into their number one PhD program directly after the MFA, there are probably hundreds of others who don’t. Here’s my story. I knew I wanted to live in my hometown of Los Angeles after graduating. I applied to two PhD programs–the Creative Writing PhD at USC and the Literature PhD with a focus on Speculative Fiction at UC Riverside–and was rejected from both of them. While the idea of doing a …

On the Cusp of a Creative Life

Image: Molly Montgomery Two weeks ago, I wrapped up my M.A. program in Creative Writing at UC Davis. I had already turned in and defended my thesis— a collection of ten short stories about California, my family history, fairies, wildfires, and ghosts, among other things— and all I had left was to finish up papers for a pedagogy class and a workshop on poet’s prose. I’m not ready to say goodbye to days of indulging in long bursts of writing and reading, and at least for the summer I can still pretend I’m working on writing for my program. But I’m at a crucial turning point in which I need to figure out how to carry my writing practices from grad school into the dreaded “real world.” Luckily, I feel like my MA program prepared me for this moment because if I learned anything in grad school, it was how to be self-sufficient as a writer. Now that I am reflecting on how my program has shaped my writing and allowed me to grow, I …

How Not to Follow Up

Hey, writers, let’s talk submissions again! It’s been a while. I’ve previously written about what cover letters should look like, what stories you should probably not show litmags, other stories you should probably not show litmags, etc. I’d like to add to this a list of behavior you should never ever indulge in when following up on a submission, from the no-bullshit perspective of someone who spends a lot of time reading slush. If I reject you, please don’t write me back with some snide remark about how I’d like your work if only I were smarter or nicer. Why would you do this? All you have accomplished is that now you are on my permanent blacklist, and if I’m having a really annoying day, I will forward your mean email to your MFA program director or whichever magazine most recently published your work. Stop. Accept that you didn’t get in this time. I don’t get into places all the time. It happens. Please do not wait TWO DAYS and then email me to ask …

On Grief, Publishing Your First Novel and Turning 30

I turn 30 this weekend! (I’m hoping the exclamation mark makes it less of a terrifying new phase of life) When I started the MFA Years I thought I’d blog a lot more; after years of writing fiction around the day job, I was finally headed to grad school and the full time writing life. I would have so much time! And so many things to say about the publication journey! If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that that hasn’t, um, been quite the case. Turns out there’s a strange law of productivity that dictates the more time you have, the less productive you are. Back in 2016, I was still working in finance, writing fiction in the wee hours of the morning, editing at night, planning a wedding, applying to 13 graduate programs and somehow managing to stay on top of life admin (tax returns, remortgaging our flat, organising family visits etc). Today, a mere email asking me for a single scanned document can send my day into a downward procrastination spiral (I will spare …

Lost at SAIC: A Mini-Memoir

And so 2018 was off to a bang. Three different bangs. Bang. Bang. Bang. I will enumerate them below. A poetry workshop (I know I claimed to be a poet when joining the MFA Years community, but I might’ve lied about that). A writing class with a focus on incorporating programming languages and electronic elements in poetics. A medium-format film photography class. The premise of these, individually, was initially exciting. I figured I was maximizing the interdisciplinary nature of my program and gearing it towards my needs, my very disparate and incoherent needs. My “texts” (I hid my “poems” of the past under the pretense of calling them “texts” to avoid the scrutiny that may have come with calling them poems) needed some maturing, as did I, and so I figured this diverse curriculum I’d set up for myself was going to help me do that and become an adult. Also to help me evolve into a mature artist, I thought I could cover the more experimental desires of my practice by taking a class …

Long Distance Writing Workshops

Seton Hill University’s MFA program is low-residency. For most of the year, my work-shopping occurs via email with my critique partners and my mentor. There are pro’s and cons to this method. In this post, I’ll review both: The Pro’s of Long Distance Work-shopping More time to critique. During in-person workshops, the critiques are given verbally, on-the-spot. Writing a critique beforehand gives me time to think about giving a thorough, constructive edit. Ability to give a manuscript different layers of edits. As a low residency grad student with a busy life, I can chunk down my critiques and address a manuscript at the macro- and micro- level. Did I mention time? The reason I chose a low-residency program was because of the time it would give me. I am not saddled with attending classes. As a mother, this means I don’t have to arrange for and pay for childcare in order to attend school. (Yeah, that’s not directly related to critiquing, but it matters to me.) The Cons of Long Distance Work-shopping Inability to read first reactions to …

Choosing an Emerging MFA Program

When I was applying to fully funded MFA programs for the second time, my strategy was simple: to ignore the rankings as much as possible, & to apply where I felt I would be happy. Since I was looking for programs with an interest in queer poetics, I ended up applying to many small or obscure MFA programs, ultimately getting accepted at one of my top choice schools, the University of Miami.

However, a few days after April 15th, one of my dream schools called me, offering me a last minute acceptance off of the waitlist. Getting into a program I’d fantasized about attending since I was an undergraduate was an incredible feeling. But at that point, I had already accepted the University of Miami’s offer. The program suggested that, despite this, I withdraw my acceptance from UM in order to come to their school. With not much time to make a decision, I had to go with my gut.

An Inside Look With Dantiel Moniz, University of Wisconsin-Madison ’18

Image: Richard Hurd What is it like living in Madison? How far does your stipend go there living wise? Before moving here, I never really thought about Wisconsin at all, had vague ideas about beer and cheese. But Madison itself is a small, cute town (little gingerbread houses and flowerbeds) with some big city aspects and lots of arts and music coming through. Easily doable without a car (though I have one) and there’s something to do all seasons. I find the cost of living here only slightly higher than my hometown in FL. We receive a $22,000/year stipend, distributed monthly, with larger lump sums three times a year at the beginning of each semester and at the end of the year (basically summer money). I think the stipend and the cost of living are manageable, though I do receive an extra 100/week in support from my husband so that I can afford my one bedroom without roommates. How does the program equip you for and support you during your teaching assistantship? For the first …

AWP Madness Ensues: Tips and Tricks for Success

[Photo credit: Jamie Brown, 2011] With over 12,000 attendees, the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference is the largest literary conference in North America. In total, there are over 2,000 presenters (one of which, this year, is me!) offering more than 550 panels, readings, and presentations. It can all be a bit overwhelming. Here are some tips to help you out: Before You Travel— Vet the Schedule: My big “discovery” this year is the AWP app. You can search the schedule by type of event, person, or day which is extremely useful once you see how thick the conference schedule book is. The app works offline in airplane mode (if you pre-load before disconnecting) so if you’re short on time, you can schedule browse on your flight. If it’s your first AWP, choose your events based on areas of interest—themes, genres, concerns you have about writing. This way, you’ll be drawn to people who are writing similarly to you. Once you start building a broader knowledge, considering choosing events based on people you’re interested …

So You’re Waiting to Hear Back from MFA Programs: Post Application Advice With Christy Lorio

For the next two months we’ll be asking some of our first year contributors to talk about the post application period and how they dealt with it last year. What did you do to get through the post application period? I was working at a dead-end job when I applied to MFA programs, and […]

So You’re Waiting to Hear Back from MFA Programs: Post Application Advice With Rachel Heng

For the next two months we’ll be asking some of our first year contributors to talk about the post application period and how they dealt with it last year. What did you do to get through the post application period? I was working at a dead-end job when I applied to MFA programs, and […]

Why We Need Diverse Syllabi

Image: John Nakamura Remy In the second year of my M.A. program, I’ve had the opportunity to teach my own introductory fiction course to undergraduate students. Creative Writing courses tend to draw a diverse group of students, especially because my intro course fulfills a general education requirement. I have students from all different disciplines, not just English— biology, engineering, poli-sci, agriculture, you name it. My students also range from freshman to so-called “super seniors.” Moreover, the UC Davis student population is racially diverse (only 26% of the freshman class of 2016 was white), and my classroom reflects the wider demographics of the school. With that in mind, I’ve needed to craft a syllabus that will both fit my students’ needs and fulfill my learning objectives. To do this, I’ve made a concerted effort to focus on readings by writers of color and women on my syllabus. In my course, my students read Junot Diaz’s story “How to Date A Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie)” to discuss 2nd person point of view. They …

How to Find a Writing MFA Program for POCs

Note: This piece originally appeared on Medium. Time for some Real Talk. If you happen to be coming from my How To Apply To A Writing MFA Program article, this is the part where I say a bunch of things that a lot of other people cannot get away with saying. When it comes to applying to a writing master’s program, it is not the same for us.  Why? Junot Diaz and David Mura say it best in “MFA vs. POC“ and “The Student of Color in a Typical MFA Program.” For minorities, I would consider these mandatory reading, so you are fully aware of what you are up against. A taste from Junot Diaz: I can’t tell you how often students of color seek me out during my visits or approach me after readings in order to share with me the racist nonsense they’re facing in their programs, from both their peers and their professors. In the last 17 years I must have had at least three hundred of these conversations, minimum. I remember one young MFA’r describing how …

Consider a Workshop or Conference This Summer

If you follow this blog frequently, you probably fall into one of three categories: Applying for an MFA this year and anxiously waiting for the results of all your application labor. Highly or hardly considering an MFA and wanted to find out if current or past candidates got the most out their experience. Currently in an MFA and looking to help out who are navigating the treacherous waters of MFA applications or are considering one. Regardless of where you are, I highly recommend thinking about a workshop, conference, and/or retreat this summer if you aren’t already. Some of these places have their applications due this month or the next (VONA, Kundiman) or in March (Clarion West, Sewanee). Like the MFA program, a workshop or conference experience can vary. When I first started to get serious about writing and wanted to know more about craft, writing lifestyles, and the business, I went to my first local writer’s conference at the time, the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. I got a feel for others in the community, learned a …

On fitting it all in

This week I start my second semester in the M.F.A. program at The University of New Orleans. My first semester was all about achieving a healthy school/work/life balance while adjusting to my new routine. Aside from a handful of all-nighters, I felt like I achieved balance for the first time in my academic career. Going into the program, I knew that I would be working two part-time jobs— a GA position and a waitress gig on the weekends. I also prioritized going to the gym three times a week, getting an ample amount of sleep, and I didn’t want my social life or relationships suffer while in school. Lofty goals for my first semester, right? But I did it. I did it!  Instead of beating myself up about not writing as much as I could have, or not taking care of myself enough (like skimping on the gym some weeks), I recognized that the goal was consistency, not perfection. I don’t work well in burnout mode. In undergrad I didn’t have a good outlet for my …

2018 Notifications

Image: Beate Meier It’s our fourth annual notifications post! Below, you’ll find information about creative writing acceptance, rejection and waitlist notifications; MA and low-res programs are included. We collect this information from Gradcafe. We cannot guarantee the data is 100 percent accurate as it is user submitted and unverifiable. Please let us know if a program is still notifying applicants, or if anything is inaccurate. Where did you apply? Have you heard back from programs? Share below and good luck! ***** Updated 3/13/18 10:49 PM Programs that have notified so far according to GradCafe results. This does not necessarily mean they are done notifying. Programs are listed in alphabetical order. Fiction Adelphi University: acceptance via email. University of Alabama: all notifications sent. University of Alaska, Fairbanks: acceptances via email and phone. American University: acceptances via email. Antioch Los Angeles: acceptance via phone. Arcadia University: acceptance via email. University of Arizona: all notifications sent. Bard College: rejection via email. Bennington College: acceptance via phone. Brooklyn College: acceptances via phone. Brown University: all notifications sent. Boise State University: acceptance …

What to Do in the Meantime

Photo credit: Michal Ziembicki The waiting period between now and April is pretty much the worst. I know this well. The last two years I applied, I was waitlisted at a few of my dream schools. In the ’16 cycle, I received a nice email from Syracuse saying I was on the waitlist for fiction. After a slew of rejections (I think the final count was six rejections out of eight that year), the Syracuse waitlist was like ice on a bruised ego. Of course, as you can guess, I stayed on the waitlist until I was eventually bumped off. In the ’17 cycle, the results were slightly better. The rejection count went down from six to five (progress!), and instead of one waitlist, I had two: UVA and Johns Hopkins. On April 11th, UVA sent me a very transparent email, saying there was one unsecured spot but it was unlikely I’d get it. And in a world of waitlist uncertainty, I was just as grateful for the honesty as I was disappointed. Then two …

Don’t Work Your Way Up, Actually

Why take yourself out of the running for the thing you really want?

My Two Cents

I’ve been hesitating with this post for a while because I don’t think I still quite know how to appropriately articulate what I’ve been feeling, but here it goes. Maybe it’s because these are the narratives I’ve been taught as a woman of color, even in my own household — stay quiet and be grateful. But I am grateful, and we’ve been shushed for too long. These are my very brief two cents. Cent 1: Having grown up in Miami — a minority-majority, strange placewhere Spanglish reigns as the official/unofficial language of the city — my experiences in predominantly white circles had been limited. Business signs are in Spanish. I speak to my parents in Spanish. For seven words, you toss in three in Spanish. It’s arguably fair to call Miami the capital of Latin America. But despite having grown up wishing Celia Cruz was my celebrity grandma, I’d spent most of my life reading predominantly white literature. I learned, early on, that names like my own were nowhere to be found in books. Much …

What Should I Do After the MFA? The Employment Edition

This is a fun game. Right now it may not feel like a fun game, but I’m calling it that, as six months from now, I’ll be able to look back at this post, at this moment when I have no idea what’s going to happen in my future, and I’ll be able to say “Ah-ha! I have an answer!” Even if that answer is only temporary. Even if that answer isn’t ideal. Even if that answer is unemployment and staying at my dad’s house (fingers crossed for a different result). Such is the nature of the MFA in Creative Writing–it doesn’t offer the relatively clear path of pre-professional graduate programs like law school or medical school, and that can be both freeing and somewhat overwhelming. My hope, though, is that the abundance of choice means something will pan out after I finish my last semester this spring. Here are my constraints: I want to live in Los Angeles (where I’m originally from) and I want whatever I’m doing to somehow involve writing, teaching, or …

The Tax Bill and Graduate Students: What We Know as of December 2, 2017

I wish this post didn’t need to be written, but unfortunately, it’s a tumultuous time with regard to the future of funding for graduate students, including those pursuing an MFA. As many of you know, earlier this week, Republicans in the House passed a comprehensive tax bill, and last night, Republicans in the Senate passed a similar comprehensive tax bill in a 51-49 vote. The Senate and the House will now have to reconcile the differences in the two bills before creating a unified bill to pass on to President Trump, who will undoubtedly sign it into law. So how does this pertain to graduate students? Well, we’re not sure yet. The reason for this is because of a key difference between the tax bill passed by the House and that passed by the Senate. The provisions in the tax overhaul passed by the House would be detrimental for any graduate students in the United States receiving a tuition remission as part of their financial package (this is the case with most if not all …

On Goal Setting

When we were young, Pops’ promised my older brother and me that we’d go somewhere new as a family every year—if we had the money. With enough savings we could take a trip to the motherland (the Philippines) or a trip to Canada; maybe we’d even go across America in an RV. We thought we could go anywhere Pops would dream up, and we ate every word of it—but there was never enough money to do any of these things or the time. There was always another overtime shift available to help pay off an overdue medical bill or credit card payment. We spent money as fast as we tried saving it. There was never enough of anything. That’s part of the beauty of growing up in the working, immigrant, poor: you’re always hopeful for shit to get better—if it doesn’t come, it doesn’t matter; what matters is that dream for a better existence, once. All we thought about was money, work, and ways to make money in the future so we could live like the …

Surviving Grad School & the “Me too” Campaign & Weinstein & Literally Everything Else

Image Credit: torbakhopper cw: sexual assault After the countless hours I spent last year on sexual assault prevention techniques and safe/consensual sex seminars, I felt confident in my victimhood. For me, fighting against the systemic powers that reinforce toxic masculinity has changed the way I see my place in it all. From being a struggling, suicidal victim of sexual assault in my undergraduate years to my time as a workshop leader in “Writing Survival,” I have gotten to know myself as someone who is healing through helping. That is, until this year, until my first semester in graduate school. At first, I was sure that most of my stress was coming from the twenty-five-page paper or the in-class discussions where I always feel like a prick, or even living so far from East Tennessee, but it became a bit more apparent over time that maybe I wasn’t only reacting to natural stressors. I found myself—and still do regularly—falling into deep depressions for weeks at a time, holding onto what little reality I could, usually in …

Your MFA is a Team Sport

Photo credit: Eric Wong, Basketball Hoop I’ve always been a highly competitive person. At five years old, I started figure skating. Adorned with pink sequins and doing my best bunny hops and swizzles to the tune of Captain Kangeroo, my mom had to teach me that it was not okay to cheer when my competitors fell down. Actually, that was generally frowned upon. A little older but still bloodthirsty, I played basketball in a youth league at my local YMCA. During the pre-game prayer, I spent more time sizing up the other team than asking Jesus for a safe game and flawless layups. Not gifted with any kind of decent dribbling skills, I relied on my height and strength to play. I gave defense my all… often to the point that I fouled out for throwing too many elbows. After the ref blew the whistle the fifth time, I gave my dad an enthusiastic thumbs up to celebrate my removal from the game while he looked at his brutish daughter with mild horror. I’ve spent …

Free Writing Sample Review for Trans*/GNC/POC Fiction Writers!

Image Credit: Bruce Guenter The below service is not affiliated with/being conducted by The MFA Years. We were asked to advertise it on our website and we’re happy to do so as it’s an incredibly generous offer! The readers are current MFA fiction students. Please read ALL of the guidelines before sending in your sample. A few current MFA students (1st year fiction writers at programs offering full-funding to all admitted students) are offering free, informal review of fiction writing samples for writers applying to MFA programs this winter.  We want to support a greater diversity of voices and perspectives in our classes and that involves making the MFA application process more accessible! What we’re offering: One of us (we are all queer and/or POC-identified) will read your sample of under 30 pages and then schedule a 40-minute phone chat with you to share our comments/discuss. We don’t have capacity to write letters of response to your piece(s) but you can ask us about specific lines/wording/whatever you want when we talk on the phone! Comments will be …

Deadlines, Deadlines, Deadlines

Photo credit: Henrique Simplicio I’ve developed a complicated relationship with deadlines. On the one hand, I’m super thankful for them. It’s not every day people ask you to write, much less read your work closely and give thoughtful feedback. Also, deadlines give me structure and keep me productive. On the other hand, getting bogged down is inevitable. Since the beginning of the semester, I’ve gone through two workshops, and I have two more deadlines within the next month. I’m pretty sure I have writer’s fatigue. What is writer’s fatigue? Is it a real thing? Well, no. I sort of made it up, but I think many writers in programs can relate. Writer’s fatigue is as its name describes; it’s getting burnt out from back-to-back deadlines. I’m an incredibly slow writer. This probably has a lot to do with perfectionism and my terrible habit of editing as I write. I’ve also become accustomed to the short-and-sweet quarter system from my undergrad and MA days. Usually, a ten-week long workshop means only one or two writing deadlines. …

Being in a Fully Funded MFA Is Not the Same as Earning a Living Wage

I’m planning to write a reflective post at the end of this semester on what it’s been like to be a third-year MFA student. (Busy! More details to come!) In the meantime, I wanted to address something that’s been on my mind. To be clear, I don’t know of any fully-funded MFA’s that include an explicit statement on their website that you can also live on said funding. But, I will say that when applying to MFA programs, I suppose there was a naïve assumption on my part that I would be able to more or less live on my stipend, especially if I wasn’t going to a program in a large, expensive city like New York or Boston. Even in the very highest tier of funded programs, graduate students are usually making just over $20,000 a year before taxes (some programs in this tier of funding include Johns Hopkins, the University of Michigan, the Michener Center, Vanderbilt, University of Virginia, and Washington University in St. Louis). More commonly, fully funded programs offer something around …

Greetings from HZWP

  Hello! I’m R. Cross and I’m currently in my first semester as an MFA candidate in Fiction at the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at The University of Michigan. I’ve applied to MFA programs on four separate occasions (in ‘13, ‘14, ‘16, and ‘17) and attended the MFA program at Southern Illinois University for the ‘14 – ‘15 school year until state budget cuts led to a university-wide funding crisis that ended up sending me back to the application gauntlet for two more rounds (NOTE: the funding crisis at SIU has since been resolved with a state budget settlement that will make for stable funding for the program for the foreseeable future; they’ve also recently added MFA fellowships that reduce the teaching load, funded by a private donor to the program). My experience as an MFA applicant and program attendee is thus long and winding, and covers the span of five years. A LITTLE BIT ABOUT ME: I’m from Columbus, Ohio. While it took me eight years of academic meandering, I eventually obtained my BA …

On Reading Poetry and Poetry Readings

Do you read poetry out loud or in your head? Do you read so slowly you lose interest or so quickly you have motions sickness by the end of the poem? Is it okay to space-out during a reading? Are boredom and confusion acceptable experiences to have when, say, you read a poem that doesn’t stick, that slides right off your mind back onto the page? This semester, in Lisa Olstein’s seminar class on sixties poets, we’ve been reading a poetry collection weekly and discussing the effects they have on us as readers. Two poets we’ve read recently have taught me one thing: No one can tell you how to have an experience. My gratitude for this lesson goes out to John Ashbery and W.S. Merwin, and to their books, Rivers and Mountains and The Lice. Ashbery is notoriously difficult and polarizing in certain ways—a divide usually opening up between “I don’t get it” or “I don’t get why it matters.” I’ve loved Ashbery for years but also always felt myself space-out during his longer …

Abandoning the ROI – From the Corporate World to the MFA Program

Photo credit: Neil Hall, Glass Office Building London I’ve been a graduate student for three weeks, and have cried in my professor’s office once. I haven’t been here long enough to determine if this ratio is a success or not, but am continuing my market research nonetheless. Let me back up – Before I started the MFA program in Creative Nonfiction at UC Riverside, I spent ten years working the corporate world in online marketing. Six of those years were at the same job, a small gaming company in Austin, Texas. That company was a place where I knew how to succeed. I knew my coworker’s various quirks and how to approach the right person to get what I needed. I knew the promotion calendar like the back of my hand, and had code and graphics and all the nitty gritty details down to a science. Life at that company was very comfortable for me and although I was sad for my tenure there to end, I left optimistic in the pursuit of dreams with …

At What Point is Self-Care Toxic?

Image: Photo by Abby Breaking News: I figured out that graduate school is hard. At the point when this happened, I was facing around eleven of my classmates. I was to present an essay we read in my Contemporary African Lit. class. I had read this article maybe five times before I had a speech ready, and I was going to do this. But there was a block, and I started stumbling, and I turned red, and people jumped in to help me, and I was spiraling. Two people gave presentations after and killed it, too, so when I left I was ready to go home and eat leftovers and cry. As my friend drove me home I expressed how humiliated I had looked, and she promised it would get better. In fact, everyone has said that the first semester is very hard. They say: The first semester of graduate school is the hardest, and that’s not to say it gets easier. It doesn’t. You’ll just adjust to how difficult it is. So here I was, …

On applying

Photo: Bryan Jones I was going to write a post about my first month at Michener, but since I’ve been getting a bunch of application-related questions from people on Draft, I thought it might be helpful to do an ‘applying to MFAs’ post. A version of this post appeared previously on my own blog, so feel free to ignore it if you’ve seen it before. If not, I hope it’s helpful for you as you put your applications together! There are a wealth of resources on Creative Writing MFAs online, plus if you’re reading The MFA Years, I’m guessing you’re already well aware of the basics (e.g. don’t go into debt for an MFA, admission rates to top programs are <1% so apply to 10-13 schools if you can, it’s all about the writing sample, start early, etc). So I’ll focus more on my own thought process and subjective experience. Major caveat that anyone reading this should take it as just another datapoint. I’m not purporting to preach the truth / tell you whether you …

I Am Not My Personal Statement

Image: Lidyanne Aquino While I was applying to MFA poetry programs in late 2016- early 2017, I was simultaneously figuring out how to come out as non-binary. I was writing personal letters, bios, anything that described me, and they were slowly morphing into queer testimonies. I found that I was taking the application process a little too seriously, a little too defensively. I was refreshing my Gmail App almost every thirty minutes. I was butterflied, I felt, by the interrogation of personal statements and essay responses. I was trying to impress someone, and I was trying to be myself, and I didn’t believe myself. The University of Mississippi’s Derrick Harriell called me to offer me a TAship in his program. I wanted to say, “Are you sure? I’m not my personal statement.” In fact, each school that accepted me got a version of Jennie on the phone who I can’t defend. I was scared and guilty of having changed dramatically since I sent my personal statement. Yeah, sure, my resume hadn’t changed, and sure, my …

Let’s Find You Some Help

You should show your actual writing to as many people as possible, getting all the advice you can wrangle out of them, before you spend hundreds of dollars applying for grad school. In this article I list specific venues for you to get critiques from other people. 

Strategizing for Second Year

Image: Shemsu.Hor The countdown has begun. After a summer of traveling in Europe, teaching ESL classes, seeing the utterly inspirational musical Hamilton, and generally avoiding writing despite my desire to get ahead, I’ve started my fall classes and I finally have the motivation to do what I came to grad school for: write. I’m in my second and final year of my MA in creative writing at UC Davis, which means between now and May I need to write a thesis. I’ve decided to make my thesis a collection of short stories. Compartmentalizing my thesis into smaller, doable tasks— writing one story at a time— will do wonders for my mental health. Or at least that’s what I’m hoping. When I was an undergraduate, I wrote a senior thesis for my English degree. It was an academic paper that ended up being 90 pages long and not very good, even though I worked on it for a whole year straight. My entire senior year I felt this looming sense of dread hovering over me, like …

Uprooting

I’m lying on my couch, an air mattress, adjusting my elbows, which every few minutes scrub a crumb—probably KIND-brand cinnamon oat cluster granola. I was accepted into the Michener Center for Writers (after being accidentally rejected) in March and moved to Austin on August 9th, floating around for a month before landing a spacious apartment close to campus. But, in Austin, unless you want to live in one of those industrial, small-town-sized apartment complexes (you know, with a pool and visitor parking that’s never open anyway) you’re getting an unfurnished spot, and now that I have a real bed and felt too lazy to deflate this mattress, which was eight dollars at Wal-Mart, I have a couch, too. I was born in Puerto Rico and raised, mostly, in Orlando, Florida. My family is pretty much all Nuyorican, and the other side is all Cuban, all living in Miami since 1966, when they won “the lottery”—which is not 300 million dollars taxed at 82% but more like a get-out-of-Cuba-free card. But that was a long time …

In Search of Lost Mojo (An introduction)

Image: Adeline Oka You applied to MFA programs last winter peddling your best traits: a voracious curiosity and an insatiable lust for soul-stirring prose. A year later, after a 17-day cross-country road trip originating in South Florida, after getting settled during one of those famed blissful Pacific Northwestern summers—the apex of which was witnessing a cosmically rare solar eclipse from smack dab in the path of totality—after briefly evacuating to New York City when those dreamy days combusted into a toxic haze fueled by catastrophic wildfires, you find yourself in rural Oregon the night before fall quarter starts, shivering in your Miami clothes, frozen before a white screen. Fraud, you scream in your head. It’s not that you knowingly deceived the ad-coms; what you’re realizing is, like the photo from eight years ago you still keep on your Tinder profile, that portrait of your writer self is outdated. That version was based on who you thought you were at 24, when you first seriously considered getting an MFA upon realizing, during your first graduate program, that you didn’t just want to read …

Mark Galarrita Introduction (University of Alabama ’17)

Within the basement of the three-bedroom house that I rent in Tuscaloosa, there is a portal to hell. This particular hole belongs to Mikhail, the devil that has called Alabama his home for over a thousand years.

Lauren Mauldin Introduction (University of California Riverside)

I never considered myself to be a pool person. Something about stretching spandex over my fat rolls, and slathering my pale, Scandinavian skin in sunscreen to avoid inevitable sun shock never exactly screamed ‘relaxation’ to me. But now I spend my afternoons bobbing through aqua water, surrounded by palm trees. On my lounge chair by the edge of the pool, the pages of a memoir warm in the sun. I float, a little aimless and untethered, waiting for classes to start. I’m still surprised that I moved to Southern California. I never thought I’d have the chance to get an MFA either. It was a dream that began ten years ago, when I was an undergraduate at North Carolina State University. MFA students at NCSU taught my intro creative writing classes, and helped shape my initial journey as a writer. I idolized them, and I wanted to be part of that elite club of people that choose to put words in the forefront of their lives. When the time came for me to decide what …

Dazed and confused in the age of the MFA

Image: Mike Boening Some things you should know about me: The first time I left Miami I was 19. And I believed so then, with extreme certainty, that leaving the 305 was written in the stars for me. It was absolutely meant to be. And in retrospect, it was for good. I came back a year later with lots of great life experience under my belt: I blacked out from drinking whiskey, I blacked out from too much sangria, I made art that I was proud of at the time, and managed to overcome a depression I had been struggling with for almost two years. Some additional things you should know about me: The second time I left Miami was a month ago, and I’m still trying to figure out if it was for good. Partly because of how much I’m going to be in the hole after this, which is cause for concern, but also because I’ve just begun my graduate career at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The “MFA in …

Preslaysa Williams Introduction (Seton Hill University)

Image: www.unsplash.com  I applied to a MFA program in Fiction to salvage a long-lost dream and save my creative life. Close to twenty years ago when I was an undergraduate, I had set a goal to earn my MFA. I’d planned to earn an MFA right after college. After getting my MFA, I’d planned to embark on my life as an artist. But life doesn’t always work according to plan. After earning my undergraduate degree, I earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration. I later secured a job in government. I had figured I’d put my cute little creative itch on the back burner and focus on my “real” career. A few years into working a nine-to-five, I was soul-restless and unhappy. I needed to pursue art and so I took up writing nine years ago. I’ve been pursuing a writing career ever since. So why pursue a MFA with years of writing experience under my belt? I wanted to keep the promise I’d made to myself all those years ago. Also, I’ve been on the …

Christy Lorio Introduction (University of New Orleans 2020)

August 29, 2017 feels a lot like August 29, 2005, except instead of watching New Orleans get pounded by Hurricane Katrina in a Houston hotel, I’m now watching Houston get pounded by Hurricane Harvey from my home in New Orleans. Classes were cancelled yesterday and today because of flood warnings; the storm has downgraded yet we are still bracing ourselves for potential flooding.

On Doing the Thing Again (An Introduction)

I start school in about a week, and I am feeling all sorts of things. Among these things is caution. It’s been a challenge trying to explain what I’ll be doing in the next few years, partially because the MFA is not necessarily common knowledge. People get the M and the A, but usually, they’ll tilt their heads and ask, “What does the F stand for?” This is a relatively easy question to answer, one I have an okay amount of patience for. What’s been difficult, however, is acknowledging that I’ve sort of done the MFA thing back when I did an MA in creative writing. “Why the hell are you doing this again?” No one’s asked me this yet, and I hope the question is much less abrasive and accusatory when the day comes. I’ve prepared answers. About a dozen of them, most of which only tangentially relate to one another. Here are a few: I was a very weak writer before and for most of my previous program, I absolutely hate working full …

Rachel Heng Introduction (Michener Center for Writers ’20)

Image: Nick Page In two days I will fly to Austin to start my MFA, but for now I find myself in the living room of my flat in London, surrounded by very large piles of clothes. Turns out shipping things across the Atlantic is eye-wateringly expensive (duh, what did I think), so I’ve spent the last few days trying to give away/donate/throw out most of my belongings. I am an unapologetic hoarder. I own movie stubs from 2008 and cut-off shorts from 2003 (that I have last worn when I was literally 14. 14.) and pebbles plucked off a beach in 1999. My husband’s wedding vows contained the line, “In the past 8 years, I have watched you collect about 1 million items.” All my other international moves had been for work and therefore paid for, so I’ve never had to throw anything out before. Every last half-used notebook, every last ticket stub came with me, from Singapore to New York, New York back to Singapore, Singapore to London. But now, for the first …

Blog of a Power-Hungry, Controlling TA

Thanks to my primary school teacher parents, I entered my MFA program with teaching experience. In middle school, I began volunteering and tutoring in classrooms and libraries across the U.S. and I kept that up throughout college. As an undergrad, I spent two summers abroad teaching and writing about my experiences in the Volta Region of Ghana and the Shanghai region of China. Despite all that, I was nervous when I stepped into my classroom on the first day of the semester. I was a newly minted first year MFA student and suddenly, I was leading a group of students as someone “knowledgeable” in my field. Looking out over those fifteen students who were staring blankly back at me, I was grateful for my week of pre-teaching pedagogy training when my professor asked, “What will your first words to your students be when you walk into your classroom? What impression do you want to make?” The semester put me through the wringer. Between difficult personal relationships, Trump’s election, and trying to establish a rigorous writing …

Becoming the Killjoy: Confronting Academic Spaces

Finishing up my final semester at University of Wyoming’s MFA felt tumultuous, though I suppose it couldn’t have ended any other way. Many faculty seemed to be leaving UW amidst the school’s large-scale budgeting overhaul due to the collapse of Wyoming’s coal industry last year, nothing new for the state considering its legacy of booms and busts. A new drama was rising afresh within the program as students learned of the manner in which beloved faculty member, Rattawut Lapcharoensap, had been terminated. Further, this was all happening against the backdrop of macro and micro struggles. Each week was some new round of messy political theatre, and meanwhile my friends and I were going through own crises, doing what we could to find moments together to fight through the gloom. After my thesis defense, one of my committee members gave me a letter that contained everything I needed to hear at the end of this stricken road. Even now, I’m holding the letter, reading through it again and finding myself wrecked with the sharp joy of …

First Year MFA Survival Guide

Photo Credit: Brenna Daughtery It’s the middle of summer and time is flashing before our very eyes. Let me the one to tell you that someone can constantly beat you over the head about how precious and short your time is during your MFA experience. Even after your entire first year you can still be blown away by this very fact. And yet, after being attending workshops and classes you can feel like you’re still at the tip of the iceberg in regards to the literary community as to what it has to offer. It’s a growing/learning process. When reflecting on my year, I have compiled a survival list that can be paired with the many other survival lists that will help those who are approaching their first year at an MFA program. It’s a crazy, but exciting literary world out there (almost as crazy as a zombie infested world). You can never have too many tips and trips to keep your body afloat. Read/Reread Past MFA Years Blog Posts Why? Or should I say, …

What Is a Mentor, Exactly?

On Father’s Day, a former creative writing professor of mine from college (let’s call him B) wrote a long and eloquent post about his thankfulness not only for his father but also for a dear mentor of his. This mentor had been B’s professor when he was an undergraduate many years ago. He had given B advice and guidance when B was rejected from graduate school, had continued to read B’s stories after B had had said mentor for workshop, and had introduced B to his literary agent. I acknowledge that this was a Facebook post and thus I certainly don’t know the full context of this mentorship. What I do know is that when I read that post, I felt a little jealous, although it was hard to parse out the exact nature of that jealousy. B’s post made me wonder, how common is it for writers to have mentors in this day and age, and what is the nature of those mentorships? How do different people interpret the idea of mentorship? On the …

It’s gonna be…oh wait, May’s over!

Photo Credit: Photos Public Domain Well, clearly time got the better of me this year. And now I am met with the task of summing up months of the MFA experience in a single blog post. Here goes! Compared to the fall, the spring semester was pretty calm from a personal standpoint – no houses were flooded, no childhood pets died on me, mid-term assignments did not coincide with working at a costume shop at Halloween time (though there was another move involved – we moved the store right before finals, so that was wonderful timing.) I managed to explore Orlando some more (well, really just the thrift stores between Sanford and Orlando and also spent a lot of time tracking down the Beyond Burger and my favorite Philly beer, Victory Kirsch Gose, at stores in Altamonte Springs.) Oh, and I saw my two favorite musicians/humans in the world, Stevie Nicks and Chrissie Hynde (the Pretenders), play together at the Amway Center. One of my courses had us taking friend trips in the area and …

Finding My Discomfort Zone

Image: Trung Bui Viet In my first class on creative nonfiction this past April, I sat down in the workshop, excited, a little nervous, but fundamentally reassured by one thought: I wasn’t going to be any good at the class anyway, so I didn’t have to worry too much about mastering the finer points of the memoir or essay. I was taking nonfiction because in my MA program, we are required to take one class outside of our genre. Since I’m a fiction writer, that meant choosing between poetry and nonfiction.  When I was in undergrad, I took one fateful poetry workshop. It was actually my first workshop experience. I wasn’t much of a poet, or at least I didn’t consider myself to be one, but it was easier to get accepted into a poetry workshop than a fiction workshop, so I took the chance to be in it when it was offered, knowing that I wasn’t going to be the star of the class. I brought in my painful clichéd breakup poems every week and …

Letter to Myself a Year Ago

Photo by Gray Malin.  Do you remember the ancient summers of your childhood? Our fingers would search the dirt between tree roots for acorns. We found so many with their shells cracked open, waiting to unfurl itself deep into the dirt. This is how it feels to be you. — You might find this hard to believe: the other night, I had a dream about our parents that was completely mundane. There was no chase, no violence, no public nudity. Our mother was looking for an apartment in Florida. Our father and I were building a new cage for small animals. We could not find the parts needed to complete it. — You are tired of the grey concrete, the spires of corporate towers, the achingly long commutes on red and blue trains. You are tired of the same lakes as big as seas. More than anything, you are tired of what you remember about this city, all the people you used to love it still holds. I am tired of writing about how my …

A New Beginning

If you’re reading this post on this blog, it’s because you have some level of investment (financial, emotional or both) in the MFA degree. When I applied to write for this site last year, I fully expected to recount a year chock full of nothing but reading & ‘riting, the first such year in my life. However, that’s not what happened. Life (& death) reared its ugly head. Over the past year, my MFA was a mere background note. To be honest, I’m lucky it was even that. Not every MFA program would allow you to enroll in August after you turned them down months earlier. Not every program would let you attend classes part-time. But Rutgers-Camden is not like every other MFA program. If you’re reading this while considering your own applications or while you are in the midst of your own MFA year(s), I urge you: please make sure your program cares about whatever issues might potentially affect your life while you pursue this degree. Nothing is more important, not even funding. I say that as someone who needed his MFA degree to be …

In Sickness and In Health

In a perfect world the MFA is straightforward: you go to class, you do your writing, and you teach or work on a literary magazine. When I started at Brooklyn, everything else in my life settled into place, whether it conformed to my busy life or went on temporary hold until I finished my degree. Grad school became my excuse for canceled plans, overdue emails, forgotten birthdays. It was easy to forget to take care of myself too. Aches and pains got pushed aside until the drafts were revised and the papers were graded. But then came the kind of symptoms that I couldn’t ignore. The pain was just discomfort at first. It wasn’t like the swift blow from a fist, but a gradual pulling and squeezing in my lower abdomen. When the pain intensified, I sat in front of my doctor and mapped across my body where it hurt. She patted my shoulder and told me the symptoms were likely stress. “Get yourself some glitter,” she said, “and relax until we get test results …

On All the Rejections

The second year of the MFA is wrapping up and I generally feel good–about the program, about the progress of my writing, about potential prospects after the MFA (I have one more year left), and about the summer ahead of me. This semester, I’ve started writing a second novel about mysterious deaths and scientists and Los Alamos and time travel, and I’m excited to see where it goes. I’ve decided to work on my book of satirical short stories about Los Angeles for my thesis, and I’m contemplating applying to PhD programs around the Los Angeles area, where I plan to move after finishing the MFA, as well as other teaching/writing/nonprofit jobs. I suppose what’s odd to me is that on one level, everything is going swimmingly. I’m on course to finish strong drafts of a novel and a collection of short stories at the end of three years of an MFA. I’m getting positive feedback and generative feedback and I’m secure in my abilities as a writer in addition to acknowledging the areas in …

Grad School Offers: Making a Major Life Decision in Nine Hours

[Featured image: Uditha Wickramanayaka] So you got into two (or more) awesome MFA programs… Congrats! Now, if your situation is anything like mine, you’re freaking out. On the morning of April 15th, while I was getting dressed for work, I received a phone call from a Miami area code. My previous conversations with the director about being waitlisted gave me high hopes for the call, but I was too nervous to pick up. Instead, I watched my phone vibrating on the bed. After a minute, I had a voicemail. The director of Miami had called to say she was thrilled to offer me a spot in next year’s cohort. During the previous week, Indiana University had offered me a spot and told me that, for funding purposes, they needed a decision by the end of that day. In order to send my signed copy of the acceptance, I had to make a decision by 6 pm before I left my office. I had no idea what to do with myself. Between 9 am and 6 …

Want to learn how to write? Become an autodidact

Image: The Dark Veil If you’re familiar with the pros and cons of MFA programs in general, you’ve probably heard this advice before: an advanced degree in Creative Writing is not necessary for you to become a writer, but it can definitely help by giving you the time and validation you need to build confidence in your writing. I’ve now completed two terms of my M.A. in Creative Writing program (two quarters actually, but because there’s no summer term there are only three quarters in one school year– I’m guessing whoever invented that system didn’t major in math), and I have enough experience at this program to confirm that advice, but also to qualify it. In an MFA or MA Program, you will be treated seriously as a writer, and you will have more time than you otherwise would to write, especially if you’re coming back to school from the working world. However, if you are in a program that funds you via teaching assistantships or other university positions, you’re also going to have a …

April Showers Bring ANXIETY

Image: 陳 冠宇 Springtime can be confusing. The weather is friendlier, the world unfurls from its winter slumber, birds sing in the tree outside your window, etc. But this time of year also brings tax returns, looming seminar papers, and summer work struggles. For those who have braved the tumultuous MFA application process over the past few months, there are three likely mindsets at this point in the year: Sadness at knowing they won’t be sitting in a graduate workshop in the fall Pulling their hair out (with excitement/anxiety!) trying to decide between offers, or Pulling their hair out (with excitement!) figuring out living situation and moving details for August. Each position comes with its own anxieties and challenges. Each can invite a sense of futility and/or imposter syndrome. I’ve been the sad applicant, the anxiously-comparing-stipends-applicant, and the oh-my-god-I’m-moving-in-four-months applicant. I am also now a graduate student in a creative writing program, and now realize that perhaps a slice of this perspective would have placed my anxieties and worries in a more helpful context. I hope reading this …

An Inside Look With Robin Conley, Western State Colorado University ’15

Image: Edsel Little Note: Thank you to first year contributor J.R. Dawson for providing me with these questions! How does your residency work and how it is paced? Spalding University’s Low-Residency program offers several options students can complete while enrolled in the program. The option selected decides the time they will attend residency. Some students, like […]

So You’re Waiting to Hear Back from MFA Programs: Post Application Advice With Julian Randall

For the next two months we’ll be asking some of our first year contributors to talk about the post application period and how they dealt with it last year. What did you do to get through the post application period? I was working at a dead-end job when I applied to MFA programs, and […]